Florida schools roundup: Recruiting plan, new scholarship, school security and more

Jim Booth

Recruiting teachers: Hillsborough County school officials will attack their teacher shortage by offering bonuses ranging from $3,600 to $7,500 to teachers who take jobs at 50 low-performing schools next fall. The bonuses also could be boosted by another $4,500 for teachers who are nationally certified. Each of the low-performing schools — called Achievement Schools — will get a full time psychologist, social worker, guidance counselor and nurse, and get help from subject area specialists and coaches. The $17 million plan was approved by the school board, and Superintendent Jeff Eakins says negotiations are ongoing with the teachers union. Gradebook. WUSF.

New scholarship: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed Equal Opportunity Scholarship would be open to a broader category of students than the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) scholarship is, according to details of the plan recently released. The maximum household income of eligible families would be 265 percent of the federal poverty level, compared with 200 percent for the FTC. Money for the new scholarship for students to attend private schools would come from general state revenues, and could grow annually. The proposal would also require private schools to test students in grades 3-10 and report the results. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program Florida Phoenix.

Superintendent’s contract: In a 3-2 vote, the Sarasota County School Board approves a four-year contract for Superintendent Todd Bowden that gives him incremental raises each year and also offers greater job protection. The deal requires votes from four of the five board members to fire Bowden, instead of a simple majority. Bowden’s $197,000 salary will rise to $222,000 over the term of the deal. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School security: Armed guardians will replace school resource officers in Nassau County elementary schools next year. Sheriff Bill Leeper says a lack of funding is driving the change. WJXT. The Hillsborough County School Board unanimously approves a resolution that rejects any attempt by the state to allow some teachers to carry guns into schools. Gradebook. WFLA. Several panelists at an event hosted by Protect Our Public Schools Manasota, a public education advocacy group, speak out against arming teachers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Schools of Hope: Gov. DeSantis wants to link his plan to expand charter schools to President Trump’s $1.5 billion tax incentive proposal. Trump wants to create federal “opportunity zones” by offering tax incentives to encourage private investment in low-income communities. Under the plan, DeSantis would designate 247 Florida communities as opportunity zones. That would broaden the field of opportunity for charter schools under the Schools of Hope plan, which encourages them to locate in areas with persistently struggling schools. Politico Florida.

Bill offers apology: A bill filed in the Legislature would offer an apology from the state to civil rights activists and allegedly gay Florida educators who were targeted for harassment by a Florida legislative committee in the 1950s and 1960s. Bill sponsor Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, says the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, named the “Johns Committee” after Sen. Charley Johns, unjustly “damaged or destroyed” the lives, well-being and livelihoods of their targets. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Home-schooling: Education experts say threats of violence in Florida schools could be pushing more students into home-schooling. The Florida Department of Education says 89,817 students were home-schooled in 2018, an increase of 2.7 percent from 2017. “There is a high probability that families are making the decision to home-school their children based on the increase in violence,” says Dr. Elizabeth Elliott of Florida Gulf Coast University’s College of Education. WBBH.

Complaint filed over pledge: A lawyer for the 11-year-old Lakeland student who was arrested after a confrontation when he refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance are filing a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. “There is an improper constitutional deprivation of rights that goes to the heart of the founding of this country,” says Roderick Ford of the Cochran Law Firm in Tampa. A substitute teacher challenged the student for not standing, even though he was not required to under the district policy, sparking the confrontation that led to the arrest. Lakeland Ledger.

Administrators challenge report: The lawyer for three assistant principals at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School says the state commission’s report on the 2018 shooting at the school unfairly singles them out for failures of the administration. Jeff Morford, Denise Reed and Winfred Porter, who were reassigned to the district office, also are suing Superintendent Robert Runcie for their reassignments. Sun Sentinel.

Fighting charters over taxes: The Palm Beach County School Board hires a high-profile law firm to defend it in a lawsuit brought by two charter schools. The schools want part of the voter-approved school property tax hike that is expected to raise about $800 million over four years for teacher raises, increased school security and mental health services. Palm Beach Post.

Charter’s financial troubles: Several employees at the Marion Military Academy, Marion County’s only charter high school, have not been paid since January. School officials say declining enrollment, and a dispute with the district and state over $48,000 owed for students who took online courses, are holding up the payment. Ocala Star-Banner.

School may close: The Island Christian School, which has been open since 1974 in Islamoralda, may close at the end of the school year. School officials say they need to add more than 50 paying students or find $400,000 in donations to keep the school open. A decision is expected next month. Key West Citizen.

Common Core: Charlotte County school officials say the pending changes to the Common Core standards will delay the purchase of new textbooks for English and math. Charlotte Sun. Polk County school officials say they’ve been busy answering questions from teachers and parents about the call to end Common Core. Lakeland Ledger.

Personnel moves: Tiatasha Brown, 41, is named the new principal of Middleton High School in Tampa. She had been the principal at Shields Middle School since 2015. Brown replaces Kim Moore, who is now the district’s director of administration. Gradebook.

Educators honored: Finalists are named for the Lake County School District’s rookie teacher of the year and school-related employee of the year. The school-related employee winner will be named March 13, and the top rookie teacher April 17. Daily Commercial.

Spelling bee winner: Rodrigo Medinilla, a 12-year-old 7th-grader at Pinecrest Preparatory Middle High. is the winner of the annual spelling bee for students in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. He moves on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 26-31 in Maryland. Miami Herald.

Coach accused of rape: An assistant football coach and security guard at Seminole Ridge High School is arrested and accused of raping a 15-year-old student during school hours earlier this month. Keith Gruber, 36, was arrested by school police. Palm Beach Post.

Charges against coach dropped: Prosecutors say they will not pursue domestic violence charges against West Orange High School football coach and physical education Bob Head. Head, 44, was arrested by Winter Garden last month and accused of throwing a decorative window frame at his wife during an argument, striking her in the head. Head’s wife refused to press charges. Head is on administrative leave. Orlando Sentinel.

A teacher’s firing: Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy wants the school board ignore an administrative law judge’s recommendation to give another chance to a teacher who dragged a student across the floor in 2018. Fennoy wants to fire Zedrick Barber, a social studies teacher at Howell L. Watkins Middle School. Palm Beach Post.

Accused teacher resigns: An Escambia County teacher who has been accused of sexually assaulting several students has resigned. Mark Lua, 30, who was an English teacher at Booker T. Washington High School, faces 14 charges. WEAR.

Student arrested: A 12-year-old student at Timucuan Elementary School is arrested for carrying a gun in his backpack at the Jacksonville school. The student said he was carrying the gun to prevent being kidnapped. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

Threat prompts absences: More than 730 students were absent from Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach Tuesday after an online gun threat was made. That’s 10 times the normal absentee rate and about 44 percent of the school’s enrollment. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: The Florida substitute teacher who implied that a student refusing to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance should go back to Africa needs a lesson on the First Amendment. Sun Sentinel. Simply decrying Common Core and encouraging people to leave public schools isn’t a commitment to public education. It’s a con. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Calling for a statewide grand jury to investigate school safety was a shrewd move that may allow Gov. Ron DeSantis to get what he wants without having to do it himself. Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel. Public teachers unions should swallow hard and concede the need for parental sovereignty in educational choice, “even” for the poor. As presently established, these organizations are underequipped to serve choiceless low-income families. Instead, they serve the system by a form of bondage. John E. Coons, redefinED. State Sen. Travis Hutson is spot on with his bill to eliminate the requirement that Florida high school students must pass algebra II to graduate. He proposes allowing some students to take industry certification courses instead of high-stakes, high-level math and science courses. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

Student enrichment: Citrus County’s Rock Crusher Elementary School is named a Title 1 Distinguished School for the 2018-19 school year. It’s the first Citrus school to receive the award, and one of of just two state schools and 100 around the United States to be honored. Citrus County Chronicle.

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